Monday, 11 August 2014

Spiritual Warfare 1: Prayer

Tim Keller was recently asked, "What would you tell the younger Tim Keller if you could?"

He answered, " I would tell him, 'Prayer is more important than you think.'"

Throughout the centuries, the traditions of the Church agree. About how to pray, of course, there are many different opinions. I think, however, that they can be summarized as three.

Liturgical prayer. 

This has been the staple of the Church. Catholic, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, people have taken up the discipline of reciting or singing formal prayers at set times each day. Beautiful liturgies continue to be produced in our day, from Reformed liturgies to The Franciscan Prayerbook to The Book of Common Prayer for Ordinary Radicals to Wesleyan prayerbooks, Celtic prayerbooks, or The Lutheran Prayerbook. 

To my mind the main strengths of liturgucal prayer are two: regularity and rootedness. I continue to struggle with regularity in prayer, and when I find myself slipping out of the habit I will take up a liturgy and set times for a few days to train myself back to the habit. I will usually then switch to mostly informal prayer, perhaps peppered with liturgy even if only the Lords Prayer. 

The rootedness of liturgy consists, to my mind, in infusing our mind with others' wisdom and with a sense of community. Others wisdom can guide us and expand our circle of attention. The sense of community that comes with liturgy can help ease our loneliness and our fixation on the challenges of our time in history, reminding us of the centuries long endurance of the church.

2) Informal Prayer

"Better to have a heart without words than words without heart", said John Bunyan. That is, of course, the danger of liturgical prayer. In the Jewish tradition prayer is obligatory for all, and for males extensive liturgical prayers are required every day. Although there are benefits to this system and it can be done in a beautiful and transformative way my experience is that more often than not the prayers are said more like high speed mantras as everyone tries to meet their obligations and get back to work. 

Years of experience with this type of prayer have made me averse to an over-reliance on liturgy, or to falling into the idea that I am "done" my obligation when I've recited certain prayers (or more "holy" for reciting more prayers). This can obscure the real heart's work of prayer and what it means, really means, to pray.  

3) Silent Prayer

There is an old tradition among the hesychasts, or quietists, of the Eastern Orthodox tradition that the ultimate prayer is without words. This view occurs among Catholic mystics as well. 

I myself value sitting in silence and surrendering to God's presence, simply letting go into , or feeling toward God, very highly. I think it is important not to make the attainment of silence into a kind of spiritual fetish, however. The point, to my mind, is transforming intimacy and communication, not the attainment of some "state".  My favorite use of silence in meditation is to follow the practice of Centering Prayer, about which there are many good books. Thomas Keating's books are a good place to start.  I like to use this not as an end in and of itself, however, but as a prelude to verbal prayer. 

Prayer As Weapon

According to Jewish tradition the "weapon of Moshiach (the Messiah) is prayer" (Likutey Moharan 1,2. As Rebbe Nachman of Breslov said, 'The Messiah will conquer the whole world without firing a bullet.') This principle in fact extends to all of Israel. The main weapon of Israel is prayer. 

Prayer is our main weapon both internally and externally. Our struggle is "not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age.....(Ephesians 6:12 NKJV). This is a battle which goes on in our internal wilderness where we stand with Christ against the Devil, and it occurs in our prayerful struggle against the dark forces which roam the earth whether in the deserts of Iraq or of the Oilsands of Alberta.  

Brothers and sisters, let us not neglect daily prayer. Let us not forget to turn to it as our first weapon in every fight and our ever-present need in keeping the eyes of our mind on Jesus.

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